Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Human Fascination: Schadenfreude.

Schadenfreude.  ʃɑːdənfrɔɪdəShod-en-froid-eh.

It's the German word explaining how we feel when we joy in others' misfortunes.  Unfortunately, I've been guilty of that a few times in my life... But I'm sure none of you have...

Why this word?  It came to mind while I was reading page 1277 of Craft & Voice:

 "The convention, or the agreed upon 'reality' of the modern play, assumes that we're watching the action as if the fourth wall of the room has been removed...A scene with language and physical gestures, enacted by characters we find familiar, in a settling that resembles space we occupy offstage: that is the essence of the style we call realism."

Cast of Peter and the Starcatcher, Broadway, pbl. 2013

I love plays like that.  Ones that are raw and real and resonate within you long after a performance is over.

"The focus of modern theater altered everything: characters grew recognizable, not exalted or debased, and their very human failings became the stuff of drama, redefining the conditions of tragedy."

Now. That word, schadenfreude, came to mind, because when we experience human drama through the stage, our reactions are quite the opposite.  If an actor is good, they can make you feel dread when they feel dread; hate when they feel hate; excitement when they feel excitement.

By using colloquial diction, relatable characters, and, in comedies, common culture references, modern drama has endeared itself to its audiences in a way that no other sub-genre of drama ever has.


  1. I'd just like to point out that I learned the word schadenfreude while reading a really good book called Olive Kitteridge. Also, I liked this post. You pointed out something really unique to realism. Comedy is kind of the opposite. You are SUPPOSED to poke fun at people's misery.

    1. Right! I should've mentioned that distinction. Thank you!